Dinner tonight was, in a word: WOW. It was visually stunning, imaginatively simple, flavorful and hearty, crisp sweet and rich meaty, herbaceous and vegetal and positively porcine. I’ve been wanting to eat out of a pumpkin for years, and finally had Farmer Clayton and the Busa bounty provide me with two perfect specimens of gourdeliciousness. (Admittedly, Clayton’s first attempt yielded pumpkins too small for our purposes, but once I’d Marcel Marceau’d my intentions, the next night he bought two beauties he’d freshly picked from the field, after planting them several months ago.) The title says it all: Apple, Onion, Sausage and Sage Stuffed Pumpkins — with some heavy cream to spectacularly soupify the savory sweet roasted filling, and some toasted pumpkin seeds to add crunch and spice. I will dream of this meal until I make it again, and make it for friends or family or lovers or heroes or anyone who deserves to tuck into a steaming sphere of sweetsavorysaltyspicy deliciousness like this. Perfection – simple perfection. And SO EASY. Eating this was like ascending to Asgardian heights of gusterrific euphoria. If it’s not the same for you, I fear you might be dead…
2 medium pumpkins (these were each about 4lbs, and the size of a soccer ball)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 bunch fresh sage
2 slices of white bread
1 medium red onion
1 crisp fresh apple (this is a Lincoln Honeycrisp)
sea salt, cracked black pepper
heavy cream (not pictured)
I start by removing the sausage from it’s casings (by flaying them open with my kitchen shears, a technique that always makes Clayton cringe with sympathy — for the sausage) and searing the seasoned meat in my wok.
Meanwhile, Clayton sacrifices his pumpkin progeny by decapitating them with my chef’s knife. Well, he did plant the seeds, propagate the vines, raise the pumpkins and then pick them himself – therefore: progeny. It’s only fitting that he split them open for us to eat, too. (He also grew the sage and onion, the apple is from a nearby orchard, and the eggs are from Chip-in Farm.) Resting the gourds on a kitchen rag set on a cutting board (to stabilize them), he uses a rocking motion with my sharp blade to saw the tops off. It’s OK if they’re not exactly straight – just as long as there is a nice sized, self-contained bowl left over to fill later.
In another large bowl, I prepare my filling. I’ve ripped two slices of bread and a handful of sage into chunks, cut my apple and onion into large bite-sized pieces, and have cracked two eggs into the mix.
My sausage is mostly browned, with just a little pink still in the center. I’m going to bake this for an hour, so the sausage will cook through – I just don’t want it to dry out, which is why I’m not fully browning it now.
Time to stuff. I’ve rubbed the cavities with EVOO, sprinkled with some salt and pepper, and then I loosely spoon enough filling into each pumpkin bowl to bring it almost level to the top edge. I place them, with their “lids” on a large foil-lined baking sheet, which I place into a preheated 400° oven for about an hour.
Apparently, Clayton’s mother never made pumpkin seeds, and parsimonious farmer-type that he is, he always wants to save these for planting later. Hello? Why should I trade a cup of snack-food now for the potential yield of several hundreds of pounds of pumpkins later? I mean, really… ! Despite my flawed sense of economy, this time he allows me to do with the seeds what I will, so I pull the threads from them (it’s easiest to do this by putting everything in a bowl of water; the seeds will float to the top, and you can pick them out of any nests of pumpkin strings more easily when they-re wet), then spread them between several lengths of paper towels to dry.
After tossing them with some EVOO, sea salt, and garlic powder, I spread my seeds across another foil-lined baking sheet, then I place them in the oven – stirring occasionally – to toast for about 20 minutes.
At the hour mark, I check my pumpkins, and they are beautiful! The tines of my testing fork easily slide through the thick orange flesh, and the filling has started to caramelize. Final step: I add about 1/2 cup of room temperature heavy cream to each bowl, then place the pumpkins back in the oven for a final 20 minutes (while my seeds toast).
At the last minute, I decide to fry a few sage leaves as garnish. Using an inch of corn oil in my smallest pan, I quickly sizzle a few leaves off, before draining them on paper plates and sprinkling them with sea salt. Fried sage leaves are delicious and crisp, and they made a nice compliment to the fresh sage already baked off inside the filling.
My pumpkin seeds are crunchy, too – perfectly roasted and sizzling hot. I eat a few handfuls right when they come out of the oven. Clayton thinks they’re a little too sinewy and fibrous. I think he’s loopy.
Piping hot, creamy and crunchy, sweet-tart apple and sharp onion crisp, spicy meaty and earth scented, this cornucopia of fall flavors is a bundle of delicious delight. We double-fist dive into each amazing orb, using a fork in one hand and a spoon in the other, scraping pumpkin flesh from the sides and scooping savory cream stuffing at the same time. We can’t stop ourselves; we barely speak; we sup with equal measures of abandon and enthusiasm. It’s headslappingly heartwarming. It’s belt-unbucklingly filling. It’s epic. Enjoy!